University, workers brace for strike

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Barring a last-minute return to the bargaining table, AFSCME members at the University of Minnesota will walk off the job Wednesday at campuses in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Morris, Crookston and Rochester.

Some 3,500 clerical, technical and health care workers represented by AFSCME Locals 3260, 3800, 3801 and 3937 could walk off the job, disrupting the first week of the fall semester of classes. The union is marshaling support from other university workers, students and the community.

“The university has chosen to impoverish some of its workers,” said Barb Bezat, president of Local 3937. “Now is the time to avert a strike and start the school year off right by paying us fair wages that keep up with inflation. It won’t break the U’s $1.5 billion operating budget.”

AFSCME said the university has offered unacceptable wage increases of only 2.25 percent for clerical and technical workers, and 2.5 percent for health care workers.

“The proposed raise would mean only $850 a year for the typical striker who earns $34,000 a year,” the union said in a statement on the AFSCME Council 5 website. “This worker would qualify for food stamps to support a family of four. Inflation is projected to be 3.5 percent next year, so the wage offer would effectively be a pay cut.

“State employees got a 3.25 percent raise in both years of their contract from the Pawlenty administration, plus step increases to reward longevity. The Minnesota Legislature has provided funding to both the state and university to help with wages and health care costs.”

The university said its wage offer is 4.25 percent, but includes step increases in its calculation. The union said the step increases, awarded as workers gain seniority, should not be counted when determining the contractual raise.

“It is unfortunate that the possibility of a strike has arisen at the beginning of the academic year,” University Vice President of Human Resources Carol Carrier said. “There is no question that a strike at the beginning of the semester will provide disruptions to students, faculty and staff, which is unfortunate and completely avoidable.”

The AFSCME members work in nearly every department, from providing clerical support for professors to library services, computer operations and hospital and clinic appointments.

Carrier said employees not represented by AFSCME are expected to work and it would be illegal for them to engage in a sympathy strike under PELRA, the state law governing public employee collective bargaining.

While some faculty members are talking about moving classes off campus, “classes are expected to take place during their regularly scheduled times and in their regularly scheduled locations,” she said.

In preparation for a walkout, the union locals have set up a hotline, 612-234-8772, and a strike headquarters at University Baptist Church, 1219 University Ave. S.E., Minneapolis. The union also announced a rally will be held at noon Wednesday in front of Morrill Hall, the main administration building on the university’s Minneapolis campus.

AFSCME is asking supporters to e-mail University President Robert Bruininks and to contribute to a strike support fund through www.uworkers.org

For more information
Visit the unions’ websites, www.afscme3800.org, www.afscme3937.org, www.afscmemn.org and www.d.umn.edu/~afscme/
To provide support, see www.uworkers.org and www.afscmemn.org
For information from the U of M Office of Human Resources, http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/er/negotiations/afscmeproposal.html